Thursday, July 09, 2009

R.I.P. Martin Vaughn-James

Sad news for fans of avant-garde comics: Martin Vaughn-James, author of the enigmatic album The Cage, passed away on July 3. See Tom Spurgeon's obituary for Vaughn-James at, as well as this brief story at ActuaBD. (And thanks to afNews where I first learned this sobering news.)

If you're not familiar with The Cage, here are a couple of images to give you a feel for it. It's sort of a trip inside an apparently abandoned building, with no people anywhere to be seen. Even with the accompanying "explanatory" text, The Cage doesn't exactly present any sort of traditional narrative. It's also not a tour or even a travelogue. The Cage is, simply (or better, complexly) The Cage.

At the 2002 Popular Culture Association conference in Toronto, the Comic Art & Comics Area was honored to present a lecture by noted comics critic and scholar Thierry Groensteen on The Cage. By happy coincidence, not only had Vaughn-James produced The Cage while living in Toronto, but Prof. Groensteen himself had recently published a study of book, La construction de "La Cage." I was the Chair of the CA&C Area for 2002, and when I received Thierry's abstract, I knew that this presentation deserved a special session all its own. We had an overflow crowd for the talk, and I believe Thierry made a lot of converts that day.
Sadly, The Cage hasn't been available in English since its original publication in 1975, but it is in the collections of several libraries. It is also back in print in French, from the Belgian publisher Les Impressions Nouvelles. Even if you can't read French, it's an amazing, mind-blowing work. I can't recommend The Cage highly enough - it's near the top of my "Why Isn't This Book Available in English???" list.

Forgot about image credits! Self-portrait and images from
La Cage @ 2009 Martin Vaughn-James, sourced from Les Impressions Nouvelles web pages. Comic Art & Comics flyer @ 2002, 2009 Gene Kannenberg, Jr. and the Comic Art & Comics area of the Popular Culture Association.

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